The 12 Best Fitness Watches That Will Optimize Any Workout
AS TECHNOLOGY advances, the fitness watch market is constantly changing, allowing you to not only track your progress during your workouts, but also log every health stat you can imagine. Some are so advanced that they can even help you identify health issues like AFib (atrial fibrillation, also known as irregular heartbeat), and newer models help you monitor everything from your recovery and energy levels to how well (or poorly) you sleep every night.
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But on a more basic level, these watches can offer GPS connectivity to help you stay your training course and offer pinpointed location data, a plethora of built-in training programs, and basic activity tracking. Depending on what your fitness goals are (like losing weight or cutting time off your mile PR), the addition of a fitness watch can help you identify where your training is lacking, or even where you may be pushing it a little too hard thanks to recording your laps and splits, as well as heart rate and oxygen levels. Plus, many fitness watches are also focused on optimizing your recovery to help you achieve the best rest and restoration so you can kick-A during your future workouts.
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With so many options to choose from, and each fitness watch offering up so many different health and fitness offerings, it may feel overwhelming to narrow down which one you should go with. Which is why we created this curated list to help you decide whether you want a full-blown smart device or just a fitness-oriented timepiece to record your laps and splits.
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Most Versatile: Apple Watch Ultra
The Apple Watch Ultra is pricey, but it’s also worth mentioning it’s not much different than other fitness watches of the same tier. In fact, one can argue the Ultra is in a class of its own, blending the superior day-to-day use of an Apple watch with the same rugged specs one might see on a brand Suunto. The Ultra contains many of the same new features as the Apple Watch Series 8, plus a much more sizable watch face, a titanium frame, a better battery life, and a water resistance of up to 100 meters. Lest we forget to mention the style points, because the Ultra looks dang good on any wrist.
Read more: Apple Watch Ultra Review
Best for the Outdoors: Suunto 9 Baro
Hailed in many circles as one of the best hiking and trail running watches around due to its accurate barometer to help track weather trends (including storm alarm and sunrise/sunset) and intelligent GPS system. While you can’t go wrong with the stainless steel model, the titanium model with the nylon strap is our favorite preference. You’ll pay about $100 more, but when it comes to a fitness watch that packs as many features as the 9 Baro while also staying blissfully lightweight and tough you’ll be happy you made the upgrade.
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Best for Marathon Training: Garmin Forerunner 955
Released back in June, the Forerunner 955 found immediate praise from Garmin fans thanks to its premium performance and respectable price point. From marathons and triathalons, to days spent out in nature, the 955 provides a sizable watch face that’s easy to see in direct sunlight. Our two favorite features include the energy level reader, called “Body Battery”, and Training Readiness, which is a tracker that analyzes your sleep quality, training intensity, and recovery time to tailor your approach to your workouts.
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Best Old School Fitness Watch: G-Shock GBD800UC-3
If the reams of data available on a smartwatch screen are too much for you, you’ll love the simplicity of a G-Shock. Rugged, strong, and forever affordable, these watches are built to last for years. You won’t get any features like a heart rate monitor or sleep tracker, but you will get a step counter, calorie calculator, and an efficient stopwatch data log. Oh, and did we mention it’s water resistant up to 200 meters?
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Amazon’s Choice: Coros Pace 2
The latest version of the affordable GPS watch is ultralight thanks to a 50 percent weight reduction in a new nylon band, a switch from a silicone band. The Pace 2 comes with over 200 exercises pre-loaded for upper body, lower body, core work and more to help you with training and running. And among our favorite features is a new muscle heat map that allows you to see which muscle groups are getting the most action in a daily, weekly, or monthly view, so you can adjust your training accordingly. Carries 30 hours of full GPS battery life, and up to 20 days of use without a charge.
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Apple Watch Series 8
There’s not much more to say about Apple’s signature smartwatch that hasn’t already been said—but we’ll rave about it a little more. The top wearable on the market got better in its latest edition with a new skin temperature sensor, a crash detection monitor, and a low power mode for extended battery life. Plus you’re still getting the best heart rate tracking, ECG readings, and blood oxygen levels one can get from a smartwatch.
Read more: Apple Watch Series 8 Review
Samsung Galaxy Watch 5
No iPhone? No problem. The Galaxy Watch 5 dons a bigger screen than previous Samsung models and has a stylish, clean design. What’s cool is the watch comes with advanced sleep coaching that analyzes your sleep habits and suggests what you can do to improve, as well as a body composition reader to get stats on body fat, body water, and BMI (Body Mass Index). Oh, and how could we forget to mention the Galaxy Watch 5’s GPS specs and voice navigation!
Garmin Venu 2
The Garmin Venu 2 tracks key health stats and measures metrics like heart rate variability and stress levels. The watch comes preloaded with 25 sports apps, which come with animated on-screen workouts that help you achieve perfect form during your workout. As far as other features we love, look to the hydration tracker and sleep analysis tools.
Garmin Forerunner 745
A triathlete favorite, the Garmin Forerunner 745 has top notch fitness tracking, solid battery life, and a rugged design that’s wonderfully waterproof. Users will appreciate the 745’s fixation on high-level data, allowing you to understand your recovery time for each workout and learn about your body’s energy levels throughout the day.
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Apple Watch SE (2nd Gen)
Introducing the 2nd generation of the Apple Watch SE! Nearly identical to the Series 8, the SE (2nd Gen) offers the same basic activity tracking and new watch features like crash detection and an upgraded processing chip. When compared to the Series 8, you sacrifice not having some of the high level sensors like the blood oxygen sensor and electrical heart sensor, however what you get in return is a favorable price point of $250!
Polar Vantage M2
Offering over 130 sport profiles, the M2 is built for just about any activity you want to track. However it performs the best as a running and cyclying companion thanks to its long battery life (30 hours) and its easy data syncing to apps like Strava, TrainingPeaks, and more.
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Fitbit Sense 2
One of the latest fitness watch releases, the Fitbit Sense 2 is reportedly 10% thinner and 15% lighter than the previous model. Its updated OS system is also more efficient to navigate, making it easier to read and track stress management and sleep tracking—two features we love about this watch.
Should I Buy a Fitness Watch?
An easy way to decide if you should get a fitness watch or not is by identifying a few key metrics you’d like to track. In a recent article, we spoke with Michael J. Joyner, M.D., a human-physiology researcher at the Mayo Clinic, to get his opinion on fitness trackers.
“If your goal is to finish a 10K, then the distance you can run without stopping is more relevant than something like your respiration rate,” Dr. Joyner told MH. “You have to ask yourself how collecting more-granular data is going to help you achieve your goals.”
Before purchasing, take a second to write down your specific needs for a fitness watch and then list some metrics you’d like to measure. Whether you’re looking for a watch that will help you train for a marathon, or looking for a watch that’s going to help you for hiking, you can find a fitness watch out there tailored to what you want.
Read more: How to Get the Most Out of Your Fitness Tracker
Key Features to Look for in a Fitness Watch
Like mentioned above, you’re going to want to list down specific uses to find what a watch that’s going to give you useful metrics. On top of this notion though are a few features every fitness watch should have. Those include step counters, basic water resistance (especially when against sweat), and a durable construction.
The more bells and whistles you attach the higher in price you will go. The sky is the limit in what you can pay, but sometimes those prices are worth the investment. This is especially true with a watch like the Suunto Baro 9, an adventure watch outfitted with a state-of-the-art GPS system and barometer that tracks storms and weather patterns—a powerful set of feature that ultimately helps keep you safe. The same is true for a fitness watch like the Apple Watch Ultra, as it’s load of specs and strong titanium construction make for a well-equipped fitness watch and everyday go-to.
Whatever you settle on, make sure you’re choosing a fitness watch that covers the bases. Then, you can go up in price from there and get a better customized device with each upgrade.
How We Selected
For the past two years, we consulted with Men’s Health‘s Fitness and Gear editors on the top fitness watches for men. Experts including our fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. and our fitness editor Brett Williams, NASM, put countless men’s fitness watches through the gauntlet to evaluate their fit, performance, ease of use, and price point. We also considered top-reviewed men’s fitness watches that had at least 100 five-star customer ratings on e-commerce websites that we trust.
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Ebenzer Samuel, C.S.C.S., is the fitness director of Men’s Health and a certified trainer with more than 10 years of training experience. He’s logged training time with NFL athletes and track athletes and his current training regimen includes weight training, HIIT conditioning, and yoga. Before joining Men’s Health in 2017, he served as a sports columnist and tech columnist for the New York Daily News.
John Thompson is the Gear and Commerce Editor at Men’s Health, where he covers fashion, grooming, gear, and technology. He was previously the Style & Gear Editor at BroBible.com, and a commerce writer for TheManual.com. His interests include shopping for rare vintage clothes and following his favorite baseball team, the Kansas City Royals.
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